New research has identified seven healthy lifestyle habits that may significantly reduce the risk of depression. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and Fudan University, examined the effects of various lifestyle factors on depression and its biological mechanisms. The seven factors investigated were smoking, diet, exercise level, sleep, sedentary behavior, social connectedness, and alcohol consumption. The researchers also used biomarkers and changes in brain structure as indicators of depression's impact on the body and brain.
The study, which utilized data from the UK Biobank, followed 287,282 participants over a nine-year period. Participants were assigned a lifestyle score based on the seven factors, and were categorized into three groups (unfavorable, intermediate, and favorable) to indicate the overall quality of their lifestyle. The results showed that individuals in the favorable lifestyle group were 57% less likely to develop depression compared to those in the unfavorable lifestyle group.
Among the seven lifestyle factors, healthy sleep had the greatest impact on reducing depression risk, followed by never smoking and frequent social connection. Having a healthy diet, consuming alcohol in moderation, regular physical activity, and low-to-moderate sedentary behavior also lowered the risk of depression.
The study also found that living a healthy lifestyle had a greater impact on depression risk than genetic factors. This underscores the importance of lifestyle behaviors in mental health and suggests that clinicians should take a holistic approach to supporting their clients' self-care routines.
While the research relied on self-reporting of behaviors, it also utilized biological and neurological markers, such as MRI brain scans, to understand the relationship between lifestyle factors and depression. The scans showed a correlation between larger brain volume in certain areas and healthy lifestyle factors. Additionally, biomarkers related to stress and inflammation, such as C-reactive protein and triglycerides, were improved with a higher lifestyle score.
To incorporate these healthy lifestyle factors into daily life, experts recommend starting slowly and gradually building up to incorporating all seven habits. Consistency is key, and it's important to focus on what we do on most days rather than being rigid about it. By making these changes, individuals can reduce their risk of developing depression and improve their overall mental health.